local carved a train looping its way up the trunk of
a tree in Dunsmuir, Calif.
Calif. ó The train is bearing down on me. I hear its
piercing whistle, feel its rumble, before I ever see it,
stuck on the tracks. Specifically, I have just started
crossing the final narrow bridge back from the trek along
the Union Pacific railroad tracks thatís the only way
ó and, these days, an illegal way ó to get to the
sublime Mossbrae Falls.
not panicking. Yet.
is, Iím banking on completing the 2.4-mile out-and-back
trip to ogle this gorgeous waterfall, off-limits for
several years now because of safety concerns, without
either getting a ticket, my car towed or my corpus
flattened. I am only 30 feet, 40 tops, from safety ó the
intersection with Scarlett Way, where my car awaits. Iím
so close that I can see the front fender. But I also see
that the train, pulling so many cars it stretches beyond
my vision, will reach the bridge before I finish crossing.
There is, maybe, a foot of sloping gravel between the
tracks in front of me heading over the bridge and a fence
that leads to a deep ravine.
am, essentially, engaged in a game of chicken with the
I dash across, hugging the fence line and hoping for the
best? I mean, the trainís only moving at about 20 mph; I
could do this, right? Then again, itís a long way to
jump if my spatial calculations should prove unreliable.
Indecision dogs me. He who hesitates is Ö oh, never
long, visceral blasts of its horn decide for me. I hasten
a retreat, duck back down to the shoulder about 3 feet
from the tracks, find a stump to rest upon and spend the
next five minutes watching wheels grind and boxcars sway
the Union Pacific, number 5681, in bright yellow with a
unfurling flag and the slogan "Building America"
emblazoned on the side, making its morning run to the
north. Boxcars roll by, most graffiti-tagged, but the
coal-black oil cars remain unscathed. Crouched in my
hovel, I ponder train-hoppers who think nothing of running
and jumping onto moving behemoths like this. I, however,
learn Iím not cut out for the hobo life. I give the
train a wide berth, much respect.
back at my car, unticketed and unscathed, I reflect that
this was the perfect way to end a weekend getaway to
Dunsmuir, an old railroad town steeped in history.
not expressly advocating breaking Civil Code 10.04.010,
which prohibits people from parking near the tracks and
walking parallel to the tracks to get to Mossbrae Falls.
But, címon, nearly every local I encountered in town has
done it at least once. That includes City Manager Brenda
Bains, whom I called to get the low-down on why the
"trail" is closed and the timetable for a
proposed new trail to be blazed on the riverís east
bank, away from the tracks.
isnít it something?" she said of the falls, 50 feet
high and 100 feet wide and seemingly emerging from the
hillside before settling into the Sacramento River.
"I did that (illegal hike) myself, only because I had
to become familiar with it. Of course, I also had to swim
in it, too. Just to become familiar with it, of
city and the nonprofit Mount Shasta Trail Association have
received grants, as well as a donation from Union Pacific,
to move forward and build a trail that does not include
walking on tracks. But 5 acres of the land is owned by the
St. Germain Foundation, a religious organization, and so
far St. Germain has not agreed to sell, Bains said. St.
Germain general manager Barbara Schrock did not return
of access to Mossbrae Falls ó "one of the most
memorable waterfalls you will see in California,"
according to "The Waterfall Loverís Guide," by
Matt and Krissi Danielsson ó should not dissuade you
from making a stop in this town of 1,650 a few miles south
of Mount Shasta.
highlights are many. In fact, I was mentally compiling a
checklist as I sat and watched the Union Pacific pass:
history as a railroad town, which includes a museum at the
Amtrak station, vintage boxcars placed around town as
other cities would erect statues, and the thoroughly
retro-charming Railroad Park Resort, where you can sleep
in a caboose and dine in a Pullman car.
status as a Northern California fly-fishing mecca in
summer and, especially, fall along the banks of the upper
Sacramento and the nearby McCloud rivers.
inviting, if small, downtown, which has trained much of
its look in the 1920s and Ď30s, when this was a major
tourist stop because of the railroad and cars in
pre-Interstate 5 days.
resistance to chain fast-food restaurants and budget
corporate hotels, and its insistence that the 13 dining
establishments be family-owned.
pride in boasting about having the "cleanest water in
the world," coming from Shastaís snow melt and its
quaint idea of keeping a water fountain running
strategic location between two peak experiences for
climbers, hikers and campers ó Mount Shasta and Castle
Crags State Park.
its falls, the aforementioned Mossbrae and the easily
accessible Hedge Creek Falls, a quarter-mile woodsy hike
down to a 30-foot waterfall that literally is right off
the re-opening of Mossbrae Falls certainly would enhance
Dunsmuirís chances when competing for the tourist
who traversed the 1.2 miles of train tracks ó in sturdy
shoes; those rocks are sharp ó and clambered down a
steep, tree-studded ravine would have found a lush
tropical locale. Water flows, some place in a thin stream,
others in a torrent, from a hillside covered year-round in
moss and other verdant foliage. It settles in a pool in
the Sacramento River. From the west side, on a sand bar,
itís an easy wade out to partake in natureís shower.
Locals say fall is a pretty time to visit, because the
leaves are turning and the flow, though diminished
somewhat so late in the year, never dries up because the
falls serve as an outlet for an underground aquifer. Word
in town is that former President George H.W. Bush made the
Mossbrae pilgrimage once.
caveat emptor: You risk as much as a $300 fine and having
your car towed by the Siskiyou County Sheriffís
Department. Then thereís the very real train risk. In
November 2011, a woman hiking along the tracks to the
falls with her husband and two children was struck by a
train and suffered major head injuries.
Dunsmuir, though, trains are something to be celebrated,
recent weekend, the Railroad Park Resort, one freeway exit
south of downtown, was booked with tourists either steeped
in railroad lore or just looking for off-beat sleeping
accommodations. Railroad buffs cherish the chance to
explore the cab of a rare 1927 Willamette Shay steam
engine. But what draws most visitors are the rooms
fashioned out of old Southern Pacific, Santa Fe, Great
Northern or Erie cabooses that encircle the tree-studded
property, near Little Castle Creek and dwarfed by the
jutting spires of Castle Crags.
pool and hot tub is a nod to modernity, but the site
really does feel as if youíve chosen to hole up in a
railroad yard for the night.
modern conveniences are there inside the caboose ó queen
bed, mini-fridge, closet and bathroom with shower ó but
you feel cocooned within the varnished wooden walls and
low ceiling, with iron braces hanging down, on which
passengers of yore clung during rocky rides. The upstairs
berth allows for a fine view of the crags beyond.
something unusual," said guest Jennifer Gonzalez, of
Oroville, staying with husband Jeremiah. "Itís our
anniversary, and we looked up unusual places in
California, and we wound up here. The rooms are a lot
nicer than I expected. I especially like that little perch
at the top. You can go up there and drink coffee. The view
is really great with those peaks, the dark against the
gray rock, is unbelievable."
good enough," Jeremiah added, "to bring our kids
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today, even with more sophisticated means of travel
available, still seem drawn to old-time locomotives.
do love trains," said Ben Gripman, 11, from El
Cerrito, staying with mom Jen and dad Stewart. "I hit
my really big train phase when I was 8. But this is still
parents relented. And they were won over once they
actually bedded down in their caboose.
thought weíd be cramped," Jen said. "But itís
totally OK for three."
eating breakfast at a picnic table across from their
caboose and before exploring Castle Crags, Zac Held and
Jaime Lau, parents of two toddlers from Los Altos, let the
kids frolic. They kicked a ball between cabooses, eyed the
a pretty cute place to have," Zac said. "Itís
an attraction for old men and little kids. Itís a
strange mix. You see kids running around and train
enthusiasts, too. Itís funny how that age range is,
like, 2 to 70s."
cabal of cabooses was built in 1968 by Dunsmuir natives
Bill and Delberta Murphy, whose parents worked for the
railroad in the boomtown days.
brought in three (cabooses) at first and just kept adding
when it caught on," said Dottie Nelson, park manager.
"Boy, do we ever get our share of (avid) railroaders.
Theyíll come up to me checking in and say, ĎMy dad
used to do this,í or ĎMy grandpa worked for Southern
Pacific.í Itís fun to hear the old stories."
than a few cars parked in front of cabooses had fly rods
on hoods or sticking out of windows.
is almost as well known for fishing as the railroad. One
of the busiest places downtown in summer is the Ted Fay
Fly Shop, where anglers get supplies and advice for
thigh-deep forays on the upper Sacramento River.
has passed on ó thereís a photo of Fay, inventor of
the two-fly system, above the checkout counter ó but
current owner Bob Grace has carried on the tradition of
pointing fly fishermen and women in the right direction.
Even during these days of drought, with the river calf-,
not thigh-, deep, "thereís still a lot thatís
fishable," he said, along the river from Box Canyon
at Mount Shasta down to Pollard Flat and Shasta Lake.
a favorite jump-off spot for (the) McCloud (River),
too," Grace said. "The prime seasons are June
and October. A lot of that has to do with weather. June,
the insects are very active. In the fall, the reverse is
the case. The waterís getting colder now, and the days
are getting shorter. Itís the mechanisms of survival
that force the fish to be a little greedier. And the
weatherís spectacular in October. I love this river. Itís
37 miles of public water. A real treasure."
depends on tourism, be it from anglers, railroaders or
motorists seeking a respite from I-5. Like other
north-state towns, it has its share of empty storefronts.
But, for the most part, the city has weathered the
volatile economic times better than most.
historic California Theater (1926) has reopened and, this
past summer, started showing "vintage" movies at
$2 a head. Breakfast spots such as the Cornerstone Bakery
(in the historic downtown) and Yaks on the 5 (near Hedge
Creek Falls) are crowded even on weekdays.
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dinner options are surprisingly varied, both in price and
ambition. You can settle into classic comfort food at the
Dogwood Diner, go high-end with Italian and Southern
France cuisine at Cafe Maddelena or find Vietnamese
offerings at Sengthong.
traditional stopping place for many travelers is the
homely, down-scale Burger Barn, a fixture since the 1970s,
where the walls are decorated with photos of locals
holding up prize trout.
popular is the Burger Barn? Constance Scott, of Berkeley,
was driving back home on I-5 and, as is her custom,
planned to stop at Burger Barn for lunch.
and her companion got there early, though, well before its
10:30 a.m. opening. Instead of driving on, Scott stuck
around so she could get her burger. She almost Ė almost
Ė had enough time to make the trek to Mossbrae Falls, if